My Judea

Our church is doing a church-wide initiative where we are serving in our “Judea.”

Taken from Acts 1:8

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Judea would’ve been within a 20-mile range of Jerusalem. So Jesus was commanding them to bear witness not just in their own hometown (Jerusalem), and not forget about the surrounding community.

We’re taking Jesus up on that.

Here’s a video that our team at Long Hollow put together. It happens to be my personal small group. I love these guys!

 

What is your small group doing to serve your “Judea”?

 

10 Things I Guarantee You’ll Never Say

I have said a lot of stupid things in my life. Many of which I’ve said right here on this blog. Things that have gotten me in hot water, cold water, and dry with no water.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the trajectory of my life, how I’m spending my time, and where I want to point. As I’ve thought back over the years, there are things I realize I’ve never said that have significantly shaped who I am. God’s changed me through generosity, community, laughter, my son, my church(es), and my own leadership journey.

Sometimes what’s not said is more important than what is said. And there are things you’ll never say, either.

I’m not a gambling man, but I’d put good money on the line that you’ll never say any of these things. And if you find yourself saying them, stop it.

10 things you’ll never say

I wish I hadn’t been so generous.

Nobody regrets being generous. Even when your generosity isn’t well received, isn’t thanked, or isn’t noticed, the act of generosity changes you as much as it changes others.

Truth: You’ll never regret generosity.

Life would’ve been better if I hadn’t joined that small group.

You will have less “free” time in your life, more heartache, more burdens to bear, more mess to wade through, and more people to pray for. Life will be tougher. But you won’t regret joining a small group, because you’ll have people to journey through life with.

Truth: You’ll never regret investing in people’s lives.

My best friends? They’re the ones I never laugh with.

Get off the boring train, and start recognizing that laughter is a gift from God. You’ll grow more spiritually with a group of people that you enjoy being around than ones you dread meeting with.

Truth: If you don’t enjoy being around you, neither will others.

I wish I had spent less time with my kids.

And your kids will never say they wish that you’d spent less time with them, either.

Truth: Time with your kids is not time wasted.

I love to drink mediocre coffee.

No you don’t. Nobody does. Which is why when I have people over to my house, I serve the best stuff that I’ve got. Or I go get my hands on the best stuff I can find. All coffee is not created equal.

Truth: 1 cup of my coffee just might change your life. :)

I wish I had been less regular at church.

Your church isn’t perfect. Neither is mine. But being where God’s people gather to worship and celebrate the work of God is healing and life-giving.

Truth: Getting plugged into a local church will change the trajectory of your life.

“Leadership” doesn’t really have any relevance in my life.

No matter where you find yourself, leadership is playing a significant role. Sometimes it’s affecting you positively. Other times, negatively. Sometimes by its presence. Other times by its absence.

Truth: Focusing on your own leadership development isn’t a waste of time.

My life is much more lovely because of my cat.

Nope. It’s not.

Truth: I hate cats. So do you.

I wish I had not gone on that mission trip.

I wrote about it here, but my life was shifted when I traveled to Costa Rica. Others’ lives were shifted because I was sick for part of the week, too. Whether you go on a trip out of your country or across state lines, you won’t regret the time away from work or the money it cost you to get there.

Truth: Going on a mission trip will mess you up in the best way possible.

Children’s ministry? That’s a waste of time.

If you say this, expect to not be a pastor very long. Or expect your church numbers to dwindle quickly.

Truth: When you invest in children, you are investing in the life of the Church. For today and tomorrow.

Anything you’d add? 

 

Unengaged, Unreached North Africa

We sent a team, under the leadership of my friend Parker Manuel, recently, to North Africa to a completely unreached, unengaged people group. People who have never heard the Gospel before, and whom no evangelical has made it a priority to engage with Truth.

Our Long Hollow team shot and edited this video. It gets me fired up for what God’s doing in North Africa, and how He’s going to use our folks to engage the unengaged, unreached peoples there!

Enjoy the video…and get fired up with me!

 

Pray for North Africa from Long Hollow Creative on Vimeo.

 

Evernote for travel: 5 new uses

image via iStock Photo user: Maurits Vink

I’ve written a few times about my love of Evernote. I’m a big fan.

I use it in so many ways, and it’s become my go-to app for writing, idea generation, travel plans, meeting notes, and collaboration. I wanted to share a couple of new ways I’m using it. Last week, I led a missions team to Costa Rica. Evernote helped in big ways.

Next time you travel, I think it will help you, too.

Using Evernote for traveling

1. In coordination with IdeaPaint

I shared last time that I had a white board sticker that I put on my wall. The only problem with the sticker was that it kept falling down, which is not very professional during a meeting. So I decided to use IdeaPaint, a paint that is used like a whiteboard. I can write and erase on it, and it leaves no ghost marks or faint colors behind. As I was planning things out for our trip, I could write them on my wall, snap a pic when I’m done, and save the pics to Evernote.

2. Scanning in important info

As part of being a team leader of our trip to Costa Rica, I had to gather lots of info from each team member. And lots of info for the organization we were going through. And lots of information for Grace. And I needed to have all of that info with me. I had passports, emergency contact info, insurance information, etc. I had hundreds of pieces of paper I needed to travel with. So I scanned every one of them in to Evernote, and they were instantly searchable. So, for instance, if I needed to search for Justin’s drug allergies, I didn’t have to dig for the right paper…I just typed it into Evernote and voila!

3. Collaboration with key documents

I’m the small groups pastor at Grace, not the missions pastor. So I don’t personally need to keep a record of everything from our travels to Costa Rica. That’s the responsibility of Lindsey Frey. So I “shared” the “Costa Rica” notebook with Lindsey, and she’s able to file away every document I put together. And when I make changes to the notebook, those changes are reflected in her notebook, too. Which means I don’t have to make a second copy of everything, or update her every time a change is made.

4. Keeping up with travel arrangements

I saved all of our itineraries to Evernote. Most of our team were traveling on the exact same schedule. Two team members, however, were traveling back home 3 days later. So things could easily get a little sticky. But with Evernote, I was able to keep the itineraries separate, and quickly and easily pull up the various airline information for each team member. Which was nice, because I was able to share those itineraries in a flash with our team, and with anyone in the States who needed the info.

5. Writing blogs

I wrote blog posts every day updating our progress. When I was at The Abraham Project, I didn’t have access to internet. But even without access to internet, Evernote works. So I’d jot down my blog post ideas throughout the day, then when I got back to the bed-and-breakfast where we were staying, Evernote would sync up, and I’d have access to the notes on my computer. Rather than just trying to remember my thoughts throughout the day, I had downloaded them when they came to mind. Which made the writing process much quicker and easier.

Next time you’re leading a missions team, or taking a trip of any kind, consider using Evernote. It’ll make your life much easier.

Have you converted to using Evernote? Are you “sold” on it?

* image via iStock Photo user: Maurits Vink

 

Costa Rica, day 5

This week, I’m leading a missions team to Costa Rica to support The Abraham Project, and two full-time missionaries that we (Grace Community Church) sent here to Costa Rica, Jason and Kerby Harpst. I’ll be blogging daily about our progress here.

God made dirt…

My once gray shoes are now a dull shade of brown, their soles are peeling back from the toes to the heel.

My shorts have the same dusty look and feel.

My favorite UT hat has lost its orange luster.

My face is a mix of burned red/brown, and my legs hurt like they’ve never hurt before.

But it’s the best kind of dirty/hot/sore/tired kind of feeling possible.

Today was our last day of work on the field, and it was by far the hottest. Wiping sweat and sunscreen from our weary eyes, we trudged to grade a bit more. It was all I could do to swing the pickaxe for a few hours to break up that dry, packed dirt. And I’m pretty sure that the dirt that we wheelbarrowed out weighed more today than yesterday. That’s possible, right?

The girls got manicures/pedicures this morning…but not so that they could sit around and be pampered. One of the families that’s a part of The Abraham Project does nails on the side, and our girls’ business today was a big blessing for her. It gave her family a little boost in income for the day/week.

The orphans

This afternoon, we had a chance to play with the children one last time. While playing soccer, I got the ball kicked right where it counts…but afterwards, I wowed them with my lame, amateurish magic trick. Had them thinking I was pulling a rubber ball out of their ear. Got ‘em every time.

It’s hard to believe that anyone would want to leave their child behind and cease to take care of him/her. These orphans are the sweetest children you’ll ever meet.

Leaving them to get on the bus was much more difficult than anyone on our team anticipated.

On to our last day here.

¡hasta luega

the field we worked on all week

All of the guys that we worked with.

me and my buddy, Victor, the 2nd man in charge on site

wow-wing with a little magic

 

Costa Rica, day 4

This week, I’m leading a missions team to Costa Rica to support The Abraham Project, and two full-time missionaries that we (Grace Community Church) sent here to Costa Rica, Jason and Kerby Harpst. I’ll be blogging daily about our progress here.

When the local workers begin to call you by your first name, you know you’ve broken through.

But you know it’s going to be a long day when a team member gets excited right out of the gate because there’s a piece of broken concrete where only dirt clods should reside.

 

As our day progressed and we continued connecting with the workers, one of them asked me, “Do you like country music?” Not wanting to sound pretentious with my nuanced love of New-grass music, I said, “Yes.” I tried explaining that country music started in Nashville, close to where I live. I asked if he knew Garth Brooks. Nope. Then they asked if I liked music videos. Again, a simple, “Yes” was easiest. Castillo wondered if I’d seen a music video with a guy that had long hair, a pony tail, wore a kilt and played a harmonica. That wasn’t ringing a bell with me, as I’m sure it’s not with you.

Then he sang the chorus. Instantly, it was “Karma Chameleon” by Boy George.

It’s a shame that, of all American music, a Boy George song would stand the test of time. Even Boy George fans would say that’s a shame.

Today, in addition to the same schedule as yesterday (some of us digging, some of us teaching children the Bible), we got to hear from Pastor Jorge, the founder of The Abraham Project. Over a decade ago, Jorge came to speak at a local church here in Costa Rica. There were 7 people present, and they planned on soon shutting the doors forever. After the service, through praying with some of the members, the Lord spoke to Jorge. He began to see the potential that was here for building a children’s home that would house orphans, but he only had $20 in his pocket.

He said

Abraham took a step of faith even though he didn’t know where he was going.

God had planted a big vision into the heart of Jorge, but it was a vision bigger than Jorge could do on his own.

He went on to say:

Before you get to the promised land, there will be many battles, but if He’s called you there you’ll get there.

Now, his $20 has multiplied into The Abraham Project, an organization worth over $2,000,000.

He challenged our team with this:

Take the $20 in your project and start a project that will grow to over $2 million.

Pastor Jorge addressing our group

 

After lunch, we took a tour of the new piece of property that The Abraham Project owns, a 2.5 acre plot valued at $750,000 (but bought for ~$250,000). Their future plans including building 4 more children’s homes and a parking lot (the current building has very little space for parking). A river snakes around the edge of the property…it’s going to be beautiful once complete.

Currently, the land is full of coffee trees and banana trees. I got to try my first ever coffee cherry. The green coffee bean resides in the center of the cherry. If the cherry’s ripe, it’ll be red. It was as delightful as I expected.

Unpicked green (unripe) and red (ripe) coffee cherries.

This man graciously shared some of his picked coffee cherries with us.

 

 

Costa Rica, day 3

This week, I’m leading a missions team to Costa Rica to support The Abraham Project, and two full-time missionaries that we (Grace Community Church) sent here to Costa Rica, Jason and Kerby Harpst. I’ll be blogging daily about our progress here.

Buenos Dias

I seem to wake up earlier and earlier every day.

Maybe it’s because of eager anticipation.

Maybe it’s because God has big plans and wants me up extra early.

Or maybe it’s because of that crazy bird just outside of my window that I hear squawking directly in my ear. I digress.

Today was another tough work day, but was broken up by one of the founding members of The Abraham Project, Steve Thomas. Steve helped us understand more of what The Abraham Project is all about, and the massive amount of children they’ve taken in. He shared countless tear-enducing stories of children that had been treated worse than any human being should ever be treated. Steve had our group at rapt attention, then he dropped this nugget of wisdom on us:

I can tell you more and more about where they have come from. But I’m more excited about where they’re going. Steve told us about how so many of their children had been adopted by loving, God-honoring families.

our team, listening to Steve, with the church building in the background

He went on to say that he sees The Abraham project as an organization sending out future missionaries and preachers to the ends of the earth. They are playing a pivotal role on these young men and women’s journey to sharing the Gospel with people of all nations.

To those of you who think your work this week is meaningless…it’s not.

Today and tomorrow, our team is splitting up during part of our day, with half of us leading a Bible study with the children at The Abraham Project day care. The other half are shoveling dirt, making snail’s progress on the field, building relationships with the workers, and getting so dirty that our white towels still look brown after a shower.

Oh, and I broke my once-every-two-decades self-imposed rule: I played soccer again.

And I told an old lady that I loved her. My Spanish is admittedly weak. And apparently hilarious to a group of women.

And being 11 degrees from the equator means that the sun is hotter. Which, for a gringo like me, means a sunburn. Even if you slather it on twice in 6 hours. Being closer to the sun really matters. (there’s probably a cheesy Christian bumper sticker somewhere in that last sentence, something like: “Stay close to the Son and you’ll get a tan”)

Here’s to the power of sunscreen.

Buenas noches.

 

Costa Rica, day 1

This week, I’m leading a missions team to Costa Rica to support The Abraham Project, and two full-time missionaries that we sent here to Costa Rica, Jason and Kerby Harpst. I’ll be blogging daily about our progress here.

We have arrived

We arrived yesterday in Costa Rica. It was, quite possibly, the longest day of my life.

We started the day at 2:30, a.m., in Clarksville, TN, and  didn’t land in Costa Rica until 6:00 pm.

On top of that, I’m sick.

What’s the only thing worse than getting sick in an airport? 

You’d be correct if you answered, “Also getting sick on a plane.”

I started getting sick in Miami, and I haven’t stopped that process. I’m on the mends now, but not back up to full strength yet.

I was super excited about preaching this morning, on the value that the Gospel places on community. This hits squarely in the middle of my passion. I was really excited about it, but since I’m sick, I’m having to hand my notes off to another team member. He’ll do a great job, for sure…I just hate that I’m not going to be able to deliver the sermon myself.

Our team is headed to an amusement park this afternoon to spend some time with the children. It’s going to rock…even if I’m not there. :)

Thanks for the prayers.

 

Jason Harpst, an interview

Jason and Kerby Harpst go to Grace.  They’re small group leaders.  They’re key volunteers in Grace Acres.  And we’re sending them out, to Costa Rica, in June.  To be honest with you, they’ve become such a vital part of Grace that we hate to see them go.  However, we rejoice with them as they are following God’s lead and leaving life as they know it in America.  If you haven’t met Jason and Kerby, I hope you get to one day.  Until then, I thought I’d post some questions to help you get to know them.

1. Where are you going in Costa Rica?
We are going to the small town of Villas de Ayarco, which is in the mountains about 45 minutes southeast of the capital city of San Jose.

2. What will you be doing while you’re there?
We will initially work with short term teams that come to Costa Rica as the Volunteer Team Coordinators for the Abraham Project.  We will also work with the children that live in any of the three orphan homes that are part of the Abraham Project.  Our vision is to set up a sports outreach program for the children and teens of the local community, where the average family lives at the “extreme poverty” level.

3. Why Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a place we have both visited before and we saw a great need for our help.  The Abraham Project, in particular, is in need of help to expand on their vision and to reach more of the hurting people of Costa Rica through the love of Christ.  With such a high cost of living, so many of the people cannot afford food for their children everyday and the local communities are filled with drugs, prostitution and gang activities.  It is too easy for young children to get involved in these activities that are all too common for them.  If they have an alternative choice to devote their time, such as a sports program that is based in the love and need for Christ in their lives, then they have a bright future…spiritually and socially.

4. Do you see this as a temporary thing, or something more permanent?
This is a permanent move.  As we surrender to God’s calling, we feel this is a permanent move.  Not a permanent move to Costa Rica in a sense, but a life devoted to what ever God has planned for us.  Where ever He leads us in the future, we will follow in effort to reach more people around the world for Christ and expand His Kingdom.

5. What did you do prior to committing to going to Costa Rica?
I have my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Mechanical Engineering and I have worked for both the Trane Company and General Motors Corporation.  My wife, Kerby, is finishing her degree in Special Education this spring.

6. Why not continue doing that?
To be honest, it would be easy to continue my work as an engineer and having Kerby work as a school teacher.  We could live comfortable lives and have a great place to raise a family in the United States but that would be our plans not God’s plans.  God has specifically asked us to give that up, and go share our love and hope we have in Him.  God calls everyone to a different path in his plan to spread the great news of Christ; some are called to only short term mission trips, some are called to support full time missionaries, some are called for local missions, and some are called to go as full time missionaries overseas.  For us, we fit into His plan as a family that will go and tell people about Christ.  It will not be easy, but we know God will provide for our needs.

7. Have you been to Costa Rica before?
I have been to Costa Rica seven times.  Six times for short term mission trips and once in January for a “pre-moving” trip and to meet with the pastor and others we will work along side with at the Abraham Project.  Kerby has been to Costa Rica twice before.

8. How do you feel uniquely gifted for what God’s calling you to do in Costa Rica?
As an engineer I am very organized which will help in the Team Coordinator aspect of our work in Costa Rica.  Additionally, Kerby will be teaching English in the daycare center at the orphanage.  With her specialty in Special Education, it will benefit her greatly when working with these children with physical and social disabilities.  We have also spent the past three years working with the children of Grace Community Church each Sunday in Grace Acres.  As far as being “qualified” to be full time missionaries, we are not, but I don’t know if anyone is really qualified.  We firmly believe in what many international mission organizations are based on.  God does not call the equipped, but instead, He equips the called.  We have much to learn about being missionaries, but our focus is on serving our all powerful and wonderful God and sharing with others what He has done in our lives.

9. What are some challenges you’ve already faced in preparing to become a full-time vocational missionary in Costa Rica?
One of the biggest challenges is seeking financial support.  We are not affiliated with any international missions agency so we need to raise 100% of our financial support.  Costa Rica has a high cost of living; where a simple $8 Wal-Mart coffee maker here in the United States costs over $30 in Costa Rica.  By not receiving any of our financial support from a missions organization, our support will come strictly from friends, family members, fellow church members, or anyone else that shares our hearts for Costa Rica.  We have had other small struggles since making the decision to enter the mission field about five months ago, but it has been amazing to see how God works and we have seen first hand what He can do if our plans are aligned with His plans.

10. What is your biggest need right now?  Is there a way we can help?
We need monthly supporters.  We have a few individuals that have been very committed to supporting us financially and we cannot express how thankful we are to have them partner alongside us.  We leave for Costa Rica at the beginning of June and what we really need right now are individuals that can commit to supporting us each month.  Nothing is too small or too big.  If you would like to support us, you can send a tax deductible check to “Grace Community Church” with a note of “Costa Rica” or “Jason and Kerby” to the following address.

Grace Community Church
PO Box 3980
Clarksville, TN  37043

You can follow us on our blog at www.todalagentecr.blogspot.com and you can always email us with questions or for more information at todalagentecr@gmail.com.